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You are here: Home / Manager's Tool Kit / Early Detection and Rapid Response / The Early Detectives / University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Tall Whitetop Program
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Early Detection and Rapid Response

The Early Detectives: How to Use Volunteers Against Invasive Species, Case Studies of Volunteer Early Detection Programs in the U.S.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Tall Whitetop Program

Contacts: Susan Donaldson
E-mail: donaldsons@unce.unr.edu
Phone: (775) 784-4848


The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Tall Whitetop program has a broad focus on control and monitoring of tall whitetop (Lepidium latifolium) within the state of Nevada, using community-based trained and untrained volunteers to monitor and combat the spread of the invasive. The program calls upon volunteers to identify tall whitetop and help eradicate it from target areas, including weed pulling in areas too sensitive for pesticides. Trained volunteers typically assist untrained volunteers, and with the program coordinator organize community weed-pulls, mapping, and school group monitoring projects.

Recruitment and Training

Through a training program dubbed "Weed Warriors," begun in 1997, volunteers are trained in weed law, mapping, identification and integrated weed management techniques. The training process draws from concerned and interested members of the community, with a broad age and ability range. The original target audience was participants from the Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program, but demand by other groups, including agencies, tribes and nonprofits, has broadened the focus. Volunteers typically learn about the program through community meetings on associated issues, press coverage, garden clubs and other interest groups. The Weed Warriors program is offered two to four times per year, and is video-conferenced to remote locations as well, reaching 30 to 50 students per training. The program encompasses eight hours of education on the identification and control of noxious weeds within the local region.

Typically upon completion of the training process, the Weed Warriors assist Cooperative Extension's tall whitetop programs by volunteering in the community and at the grass-roots action level, teaching Nevadans how to recognize, control and eradicate tall whitetop and other noxious weeds. Some volunteers act as project managers, while others are more content to participate in events organized by others. This provides a tiered or tree-like structure, where individuals may take initiative without constant direction or supervision. More than 350 Weed Warriors have been trained to date, and over 5,000 volunteer hours have been documented.
There are additional opportunities for volunteers to monitor and map the presence of tall whitetop. Volunteers are equipped with identification booklets, GPS technology and enlarged road maps and topographical maps to monitor urban/suburban areas where tall whitetop and other noxious weeds are detected. The volunteers locate and identify the plants on a roadmap, plot them with a GPS system, and report the information collected back to the volunteer coordinator or director of the program. This information is then forwarded to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which is compiling a database of invasive weeds detected in the state of Nevada (http://agri.nv.gov/Plant/Noxious_Weeds/Mapping_Overview_pg/).

An additional community outreach program associated with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's tall whitetop program is the Tall Whitetop Task Force, begun in 1992. This program provides an informal forum for activists, volunteers, agencies and citizens to discuss problems and successes associated with their efforts. It also provides a contact network where interested parties can share grant opportunities and new information and research associated with tall whitetop control.

Volunteer motivation

Most active volunteers become involved due to their recognition of the severity of the weed problem. They are often self-motivated, and only require regular events and feedback to continue their interest in weed work. The most important tactics to keep volunteers motivated are to keep them active, and support their efforts publicly and often. Sue Donaldson says:

"Make sure there is enough for volunteers to do, where they can provide meaningful work, making a noticeable contribution. Don't create demand on the part of the volunteers that you cannot meet."

"Keep the volunteers engaged and aware that the program depends on them for success."

"Cultivate a relationship outside of the weed-work. Be friends, and let them know they are not free labor, but valuable labor."

"Recognize that volunteer management is very time-consuming, and the best success will be achieved if staff time can be specifically dedicated to the effort." By constructing a friendship-based network, contacts will be maintained, and volunteers will become passionate about the work they are doing, and the difference they are making.

Challenges of the Program

Many areas where volunteers work are ecologically sensitive, and chemical applications may not be appropriate (e.g., Lake Tahoe Watershed). In addition, Weed Warriors are not asked to make chemical applications as part of their volunteer service for safety reasons. This means that hand pulling must be used, which is very labor intensive and inefficient as a means of control. The combination of labor-intensive work with repeated large invasions can lead to burnout among the volunteers, who are daunted by the many acres infested by tall whitetop. "In western Nevada, success in combating tall whitetop is not measured in acres eradicated or controlled, but instead by the small infestations or individual plants and isolated areas that have been successfully treated." The key to preventing burnout is not asking too much of any one volunteer, and providing volunteers with the chance to diversify their efforts and learn new skills. Project rotation to allow refocusing is one good method of preventing volunteer burnout.

Obtaining funding is another difficulty, although there are small amounts of money allocated from the federal, state and community levels. Grants and additional funds must be located to make advances in the program and supply new technology, such as the purchasing of GPS units. "Try to be creative about where you get your grants from." Funds for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Tall Whitetop Program have previously come from the state, fish and wildlife foundations, the Division of Environmental Protection, water quality programs, private foundations, Tahoe license plate programs and many additional groups with an interest in environmental protection.

Another difficulty facing the Nevada Tall Whitetop Program is the sheer scale of the infestation, and the percentage of the infestation that occurs on private and public land. Approximately 85% of Nevada's land is federally owned, and in many cases, there is little known about the scale of tall whitetop infestation on these lands. The Nevada Weed Action Committee is working with federal agencies to prepare a more accurate estimate of Nevada's tall whitetop infestation in the future. Remote sensing techniques may provide a more efficient way of collecting mapping data.


Through the use of volunteers, the tall whitetop program has had success in monitoring and eradicating several tall whitetop infestations detected around the ecologically sensitive region of Lake Tahoe, as well as monitoring and locating infestations in urban areas around Reno. Small infestations are typically targeted for removal or "weed-pulls," and large-scale infestations targeted for control and monitoring programs.

Quick Facts

Staffing: (volunteers and volunteer coordinators) with assistance of Cooperative Extension

Operating Budget: minimal (office funding received from state and county), small portion from federal government, as well as money from grants.

Species Targeted: (Lepidium latifolium L.), Tall Whitetop, or Perennial Pepperweed, along with additional species declared to be noxious weeds.

Habitats Patrolled: riparian habitats statewide with a watershed focus (Truckee, Carson, Walker, Humbolt Rivers and Clark County); Lake Tahoe Basin; urban/suburban areas in western Nevada (Truckee Meadows, Carson City and Douglas County)

Location: Nevada, Lake Tahoe and Reno (Truckee Meadows area)

Program: Program: 25 + active Weed Warriors, two Weed Warriors who coordinate projects, and numerous untrained volunteers. Education and direction provided by Cooperative Extension faculty and personnel from Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Report prepared by: Matthew Rose

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Last Modified: May 18, 2016
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